Covington pursues Walker's Bend community building

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

The city of Covington is pursuing a grant to build a community building in Walker's Bend subdivision off Ga. Highway 81.

The 39,460-square-foot building would be four stories, with residential units on the top three floors and commercial space on the main floor, Grant Writer Randy Conner told the City Council Monday night.

The residential component would include 18 two-bedroom units and 12 one-bedroom units. The commercial portion would include a 4,500-square-foot commercial kitchen and 4,500 in additional square footage for commercial/retail space.

The kitchen is needed for residents who have catering businesses or need to cook for large gatherings, but don't have a commercial kitchen as required by the city's ordinance, Conner said. It would be available to the community to rent.

The remaining space could serve as an incubator for start-up businesses as well as house classrooms for homeowner education and other programs, said Planning Director Randy Vinson.

The estimated cost to construct the building is $3.35 million. An $800,000 Community Development Block Grant is available from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The city is also hoping for county assistance. There have been preliminary talks with Commissioner J.C. Henderson regarding use of $545,000 allocated in SPLOST revenues for a community center in District 4, Conner said. Though Henderson's initial proposal was for a work force training center managed by the Newton County Ministers Union, the intergovernmental agreement approved by the county and cities calls only for a community center.

The city is also hoping the county will transfer $435,000 in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds that it will not use to the project, along with allowing the city to apply for additional NSP funds. Combined with a bank loan the Covington Housing Authority would take out, this would cover the cost of construction with no cash investment from the city, Conner said.

Councilman Chris Smith expressed concern about what would happen if the county funding sources don't come through.

"If we don't get the county SPLOST and the NSP money the program will be dead in the water. We can't afford to come out of pocket on that," Conner said.

He added there would need to be a legally binding agreement in place with the county.

"We want to have the funding in line before we ever start," Conner said.

Officials agreed a work session with county commissioners is needed. Time is of the essence, as the grant application is due in early April.

The building would be owned by the Covington Housing Authority, the Covington Redevelopment Authority and Newton County, Conner said.

BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan said she doesn't have enough information yet to form an opinion.

"I think it's a very workable thing to do on the surface ... if we could work with the Ministers Union and come up with something that would benefit everybody," Morgan said, adding that she would be concerned about maintenance and operations and other costs associated with the facility.

"I have a lot of questions. I'm sure the city can give answers. It's too preliminary for anybody to give a position in favor or against," she said.